The Benefits of Change Management in Industrial Automation Workflows

Feb. 11, 2022
While long employed in the IT, change management has yet to become standard operating procedure in the OT space, despite its many benefits.
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Quick hits:

  • Change management is the methodology used to manage alterations to code that affect how equipment and processes are controlled, tracked, and archived.
  • Change Management is becoming more important in the OT space as end users seek to coordinate and integrate code across large numbers of devices, which may be from different vendors.
  • Change Management can also help end users to ensure cybersecurity by allowing them to quickly detect unauthorized or malicious code that has been inserted into a system.

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Hello and welcome to Take Five with Automation World. I'm David Miller, Senior Technical Writer for Automation World. Today, I'm going to be talking about the benefits of change management. And in discussing this topic further, I'm building from an article I recently wrote on the addition of an Archive Management of Chance module to Rockwell Automation's FactoryTalk AssetCentre software. You can find the link to that in the text below this video.

So, obviously the first thing we have to address is “what is change management?” This is fairly simple. It's the way operators manage alterations to code that affect how equipment and processes are controlled, tracked, and archived. Now, this has long been an established practice in the world of software engineering – in the IT world – where all kinds of complex changes in code are par for the course – That's fundamentally what they do. However, in the OT world, change management practices have yet to be so fully adopted. That said, they are becoming increasingly important, and end users are paying more and more attention to them. That's because, as our viewers certainly know, OT and IT are getting closer together – more sophisticated code and software intelligence is required to drive equipment, and, on top of that, users are being forced to navigate environments where they're working with equipment from many different vendors and across many different locations. Well, in that environment, to ensure that the best quality code possible is implemented uniformly in all instances, change management is required.

So again, when you implement change management, you're taking a complex, messy environment where many different people might be making changes to code on different pieces of equipment and in different locations as it suits their needs, and you're keeping track of all of those changes so that things don't get too messy. Because what can happen if you don't is that you can run into interoperability challenges, or be unable to properly restore operations should something shut down and code be lost. 

And there's one other thing too, and that's cybersecurity, which we all know is a growing threat. Because something else that change management does is it guards against unauthorized or malicious code being put into your system, because it provides you with a ledger of which decisions were made, who made them, why they were made, and when they were made.

Now, a concrete example. Imagine you have an employee who is in charge of meeting a monthly production quota. It's the end of the month, and he's close to hitting it. However, at the last minute, a smart device goes down. The maintenance technician has a replacement device, but he can't locate the most recent program and configuration files to bring it back up online and restore production. This would be the result of no archive of change management. Because there was no managed plan in place for when the device failed, and as a result, downtime was extended.

Now, what else could happen? Several things. Unauthorized changes might be made to code causing poor production quality – and if this happens with no record of it happening, operators might not even be able to determine what changes to lead to the decrease in quality. You could also have the wrong version of a program downloaded to a device, and this could lead to scrap or other inefficiencies. I think viewers are starting to get the point. The list goes on.

So, I'll mention one more time what I did at the start of this video, which is that the archive management of change module for FactoryTalk AssetCentre is designed precisely to offer this functionality. 

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